Elliot Fletcher on the Grumpy x Sunshine trope and her debut rom-com, Whisky Business

"I believe the beauty of a truly great grumpy-sunshine story lies in the healing journey the characters are unwittingly walking."

This post was written by Elliot Fletcher, author of Whisky Business.

The first words I always use when discussing my new adult small town romance, Whisky Business, is grumpy/sunshine.

As a lifelong reader and now writer of romance (and someone who has my favourite topes listed from one to ten) this feels very comfortable to me. But if booktok or bookstagram has only recently convinced you to dip your toe in the world of romance, it can all feel a bit confusing, like a made-up language we share amongst our secret society. Grumpy-sunshine, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers and so on…

The truth is, every romance reader has a trope they gravitate to time and again, the one that has them grinning and kicking their legs then reading by torch light into the wee hours of the morning.

For me, that trope has always been grumpy/sunshine. I adore the failed meet-cutes, when our optimistic sunshine character comes face to face with their antithesis in every way, in the shape of a glowering (but nearly always beautiful) curmudgeon, and vows not to let them dull their sparkle. I find myself addicted to the witty back and forth that ensues, as the grump fights in vain but ultimately fails not to be charmed by the idealist unicorn the universe has forced into their lap, counting down the pages until the duo finally gives into the growing attraction kindling between them.

But while a popular trope is a wonderful starting point, every story must have layers. I believe the beauty of a truly great grumpy-sunshine story lies in the healing journey the characters are unwittingly walking. When the reader gets to see the first crack of walls beginning to crumble and hearts put on the line. For the grump, those walls are most commonly a direct cause from a past personal wound, a hurt or betrayal so grave it made them vow to never face such vulnerability again. While the sunshine might be overtly cheerful to overcompensate their self-doubt. As a writer, the challenge can be how to set your story apart in a sea of similar tropes.

With this is mind, I knew I really wanted to dig beneath the surface for the two main characters of Whisky Business, April and Mal.

April—an actress known all over the world—returns to her small Scottish village to lick her wounds after her career has hit a speedbump. So used to playing a character, she carries the persona of carefree Hollywood princess wherever she goes. After unexpectedly inheriting her deceased Grandfather’s failing whisky distillery, she’s not only dealing with the grief of his loss but the fear of being seen as a failure in a tiny community where everyone has already formed an opinion of her. As a result, she’s determined to fake it until she makes it.

Upon her return, she has a disastrous run in with Malcolm Macabe, a quiet man she remembers from her childhood. Only he’s no longer the shy teen she remembers at all. He’s colder now. Closed off. He also happens to be the Master Distiller of the Whisky Distillery and determined not to have her poking around.

On first impression, Malcolm presents all the characteristics of our usual grump. He’s surly, reclusive, rude to everyone but his dog and unwelcome to change. But as we learn more about him, it comes to light that Malcolm is facing his own struggle—crippling social anxiety. His anxiety affects not only the running of a business that’s been place squarely on his shoulders, but also his ability to form the romantic connection he so desperately seeks.

This starting point allowed for the tension filled clash of horns as April attempts to insert herself into his life and aid in saving the Distillery from certain closure. While also made room to write a multi-faceted character like Malcolm, a modern romantic hero who is able to be a both the handsome grump the trope demands, and a man who isn’t afraid to struggle and speak openly of the toll poor mental health can place on a person. The shift of April’s return frightens him, as does the continuous push and pull between wanting to step outside of his comfort zone to be with her and the safety of the lonely life he’s created for himself.

All stories are built from tropes, and Whisky Business is no different. What I really hope readers find beneath the grumpy/sunshine umbrella is a love story that’s as achingly tender and truthful as it is steamy. After struggling with my own mental health in recent years, I wanted to try to break the stigma by highlighting anxiety within romance, so readers who face similar struggles may recognise themselves and know, while they often may not feel it, they are just as worthy of their happy ending.

Get your copy of Whisky Business by Elliot Fletcher here.

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